How To Better Position Your Emails In The Inbox

Positioning is what you do when you set out to differentiate your emails from your competitors in your customer's mind, as well as the inbox.

In my previous column, I outlined a strategy of evaluation and discovery you should follow before you get down to the nitty-gritty elements of email positioning. It's important to take these preliminary steps first, so you know where you’re in relatively good shape and what you need to work on.

Once you're ready to start working, the steps below can help you work through the tactical process of positioning -- or repositioning -- your email marketing program.

Begin with Your Company Positioning Strategy

I mentioned previously that your competition in the inbox (and, by extension, your customer's mind) is not necessarily going to be exactly the same as your competition out in the marketplace. However, your starting point should be your company’s overall brand positioning. You'll tailor it for your email program, but don't veer too far from it.



Positioning in Your Welcome (Onboarding) Program

Besides reinforcing the opt-in, setting expectations and moving your subscribers to purchase, the onboarding program also kicks off the positioning process, as it is the subscriber’s first experience with your email program. The content in these initial emails should not just set expectations, but deliver on them -- by providing immediate value and being relevant to each individual new subscriber.

Ideally, these emails should include dynamic content blocks that can reflect where your customer was in the purchase process when she opted in, what she had been browsing or even purchased previously, whether she's a loyalty club member or interested in one activity, sport or clothing style over others, based on stated preferences.

Positioning Multiple-Content Streams

Part of your onboarding process might also include positioning of multiple email streams. Clearly displaying the value proposition of each message stream is essential here, as is making each message design look unique yet part of your overall email program.

For example, suppose you send three titles: a weekly "tips and advice" newsletter; "Deal of the day," five to six days a week; and "New and cool," whenever you have a new product to promote. That's at least six emails a week from your brand, and more likely eight to 10. 

If you don't stake out a clear position for each message stream, the weekly mass of messages will begin to blend together in your subscriber's mind and can become overwhelming, leading to unsubscribing, inactivity or spam complaints.

Classic inbox positioning techniques can help:
1. Give each message stream a unique name and design that remains consistent with your corporate branding design and assets.
2. Incorporate the name in the "from" line.
3. State the message value in the subject line.

Positioning the Subject Line

In a positioning mode, the subject line has to do a lot of heavy lifting. Besides the usual duty -- telling recipients what's inside, reinforcing your brand, enticing them to open the message, moving them to action -- it should also be instantly recognizable, so that your recipients don't have to glance at the “from” name to help them figure out who sent the message.

This can be a tricky proposition, and you won't achieve it by making each subject line sound the same. Get your mojo going and experiment with different styles: humorous, educational, or whatever is consistent with your brand and customer expectations.

Use a Creative Brief for Positioning

A creative brief is a detailed plan for managing the creative content in your email messages.  As a positioning plan, you can use a brief for each email stream to apply the value proposition for each stream and track how each element in the message (subject line, headline, copy, images, related social media messaging, cadence, etc.) reinforces that positioning.

A creative brief also helps you manage creative assets such as logos and colors. Your application of these might bump up against creative standards that dictate image size, for example. Be prepared to explain why you have to adapt assets such as logo sizes and colors for email's unique rendering and inbox challenges.

Positioning Answers the Question: 'WIIFM?'

That is, "What's in it for me?" With correct positioning, your subscribers don't even have to ask themselves that age-old question, because the answer is clear in the inbox, in the email name, the copy and the way you promote it on your website and elsewhere.

Until next time, take it up a notch.

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